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PARSHAS YISROAnd Yisro heard…all that Hashem did for Moshe, and for his People, Yisrael. (18:1)
Yisro must have been a very unique individual. After all, how many parshios in the Torah are named for a specific person? Certainly, he must have had some particular virtue to warrant such an honor. Let us go back to Yisro's arrival in the wilderness to be with the Jewish People. Why would someone abandon the comforts of home to join a nation "in formation," a people that had, until recently, been subjected to hundreds of years of harsh slavery? Chazal teach us that Yisro had heard of two events: Krias Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Red Sea, and the war with Amalek. These miracles motivated Yisro join the Jews.
Now, Yisro was not the only person that had heard of these events. In fact, the entire world had heard about them. It was not every day that the Red Sea was split. Amalek was a huge nation, proficient in warfare. Their defeat at the hands of the Jews was a military phenomenon. Each event on its own merit should have spurred thousands to join the Jewish People. Yet, only one person made the move. Why? Why was the entire world so insensitive to what had occurred? They had all heard; they were all aware; yet, only one person took positive action.
Horav Chaim Scheinberg, Shlita, suggests that the answer is to be found in Rashi's commentary concerning Yisro's arrival in the wilderness. The pasuk relates his arrival, "And Yisro…came to…the wilderness where he (Moshe) was encamped by the Mountain of G-d" (ibid 18:5). The mention of the wilderness is enigmatic. Where else could this have occurred? We already know that Klal Yisrael was in the wilderness subsequent to the exodus from Egypt. Is it necessary to repeat this bit of geography? Rashi explains: "The Torah mentions it [the wilderness] in order to laud Yisro. For even though he basked in worldly honor, nadvo libo, his generous heart (guided) him to go out to the wilderness, a desolate place, to hear the words of Torah." When the time came for Yisro to hear the truth, luxury and honor did not prevent him from coming to hear the word of Hashem in the wilderness. His distinction was nadvo libo, a generous heart. He saw beyond himself. His benevolent, self-effacing, noble heart was unstinting and considerate enough to surrender it all, to ignore what he had and what he might still amass, just to learn the verities that Torah and Judaism had to offer.
Rashi is teaching us a profound lesson. We usually refer to generosity as a form of kindness, a benevolence in which we share our wealth of time with others in need of our favor. We are now being taught that it was Yisro's generosity, his nobility of heart that motivated his sudden move from a life of comfort to join the Jews in the wilderness. This nobility of heart empowered Yisro to leave it all behind. This is a type of generosity which we ourselves can bestow, so to speak, on Hashem. When we make our own considerations and petty desires secondary in order to act on behalf of the Almighty, we demonstrate the highest degree of generosity.
Judaism is a life predicated upon the ability to sacrifice. To truly believe is to be willing to sacrifice for one's convictions. Sacrifice requires the virtue of generosity. We all have it within ourselves. It depends on whether or not we are prepared to use that ability. David HaMelech says in Tehillim 47:10, "Nedivei amim ne'esafu am Elokai Avraham, "The nobles of the nations gathered; the nation of the G-d of Avraham." The expression nedivei amim, nobles of the nations, explains Rav Scheinberg, is a reference to those individuals who have hearts that are catalyzed by noble, selfless motivations. These actions are not self-serving. They are responding to a higher - nobler - ideal. Rashi explains that the nobles that this pasuk refers to are "those who offered themselves to be slaughtered and killed for the Holy Name." The preeminent form of nobility is to return one's life, generously and wholeheartedly, to the One Who gave it.
The title of nediv-lev is given to Avraham Avinu, because, as Rashi comments, "He was the first with a generous heart, the vanguard for converts." He was the pioneer, the pacesetter for others to emulate. He taught the world the meaning of generosity. He showed them that the highest form of benevolence is to bestow on G-d - as he did. He was even prepared to sacrifice even himself for his beliefs. He was ready to return his pure and noble heart, if necessary, to his Creator for the sake of sanctifying His Name. All succeeding converts took their inspiration and example from Avraham Avinu - the father of the Jewish People.
Yisro was like that. He had a "large" heart, a benevolent heart, a heart that permitted him to follow magnanimously in Avraham's footsteps. Thus, when the news of Hashem's miracles reached him, he was ready to move. He was sensitive to the truth, and this spurred him to convert and join the Jewish People in the wilderness. He was awakened, while the rest of the world continued on in pathetic slumber. Yisro saw through the maze and understood the significance of all of the miracles and the lessons that they imparted. The rest of the world continued to sleep. Yisro listened with his heart. The miracles conveyed to him a personal message: "Come and join the Jewish People." He knew that the only way he could understand the depth of the miracles in order to penetrate the hidden truth of their lesson was to convert. Yisro's recognition of the truth was not inspired by his incisive mind. Rather, his sensitive heart infused him with conviction. Our heart is aware of much more than we can imagine. Yisro's heart directed him to acknowledge Hashem and join His People. In the merit of his outstanding heart, Yisro warranted that a parsha bear his name. Other wise men lived during Yisro's time - and after. Many wise men throughout the generations have seen or heard of the miracles which accompanied the Jewish People throughout the millennia. Yet, it did not influence them. Why? They did not have open, generous hearts that would motivate them to acknowledge the truth. They were wrapped up in themselves, allowing no room for anyone or anything else to penetrate their self-centered lifestyle. This is the definition of an idolater: An apathetic, unmoved, uninspired individual who lives for himself. He serves the god of his choice by convenience - not out of a sense of truth. Indeed, this may apply to he who determines his own individual mode of observance based upon what is most self-serving. It is all in the heart - not the mind.
Now heed my voice, I shall advise you, and may G-d be with you. You be a representative to G-d. (18:19)
In this pasuk, Yisro is advising Moshe Rabbeinu concerning how to adjudicate the law and how to serve as an intermediary between the nation and Hashem. The Sifrei Kabbalah teach us that Moshe was to be mesakein, repair, the neshamah of Noach. A righteous man, Noach's virtue did not extend beyond himself. Thus, when Hashem shared the decree to wipe out humanity with him, Noach did not intercede; he did not complain; he followed orders and entered the Ark to save himself, while the rest of the generation perished in the Flood. Moshe's function was to pray for the people of his generation that were not worthy of salvation, to intervene on their behalf. Horav Yaakov Y. Twersky, zl, the Milwaukee Rebbe, interprets this idea into Yisro's advice to Moshe. "I shall advise you, and may G-d be with you." I will counsel you what to do in order to fulfill your mission of correcting Noach's soul. When Klal Yisrael sins with the Golden Calf, and Hashem tells you that He will destroy the Jewish People and recreate the nation from you, at that point stand mul Elokim, opposite Hashem, and intercede on behalf of the Jews. It is your function to offer yourself in their place. By exhibiting such self-sacrifice, you will save the nation and affect the tikun, restoration, for Noach's neshamah.
And now, if you hearken well to Me and observe My covenant. (19:5)
Targum Onkelos defines im shamoa tishmeu, "if you will hearken/listen well," as, u'ch'aan im kabala tikablun, "if you will accept upon yourselves." This translation is supported by Rashi, who cites the Mechilta with a parallel definition. This implies, explains Horav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zl, that Kabbalas ha'Torah, accepting the Torah, is the principle upon which one is zocheh, merits, to acquire Torah. I have always had a difficult time defining "Kabbolas" ha'Torah. What does it mean to accept/receive the Torah? In searching for the correct synonym I came upon the word, welcome. To be mekabel the Torah means to receive it with open arms, to welcome it into our midst, to make it a part of our lives, to acquiesce to its every demand. That is the meaning of acceptance.
Rashi adds, "If you will accept the Torah, ye'erav lachem, it will become sweet for you, from now on, because all beginnings are difficult." This intimates that starting out on the Torah path, beginning to study Torah, may be difficult, but it is not a difficulty which is intrinsic specifically to Torah. It is like all other haschalos, beginnings, new undertakings; it is challenging. There is one distinction, however. Once one begins, it becomes sweet; it is no longer difficult. If one still experiences difficulty, it is because he has not yet been mekabel, accepted, upon himself the yoke of Torah. In other words, Kabbalas ha'Torah catalyzes areivus, sweetness, which undermines the difficulty one might encounter.
The Rosh Yeshivah wonders why Rashi uses the concept of sweetness to contrast difficulty. He should have said that at first it is hard/difficult, and then it becomes easier. Why does he interject with sweetness? He explains that the difficulty of accepting the Torah happens only to one who has not tasted its sweetness. Anyone who has ever tasted Torah's sweetness does not experience any difficulty in welcoming the Torah into his life.
Indeed, one who has encountered the appeal of Torah can never sever himself from it. In his commentary to Parashah Ki Savo (Devarim 26:11), the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes, "You shall be glad with all of the goodness that Hashem, your G-d, has given you." There is no "good" other than Torah. If one were to taste the sweetness of the good of the Torah, he would go out of his mind in its pursuit. All of the gold and silver in the world would be meaningless to him in comparison to Torah.
There is another, deeper lesson to be derived herein. Those who have studied Torah, who have plumbed its depths and nevertheless have resorted to forsaking it, truly have never experienced its sweetness. They studied, they imbibed, but they did not accept it. It was not a "welcome" experience. It was something they either had to do - or did- but it was not something that they wanted to do. Perhaps this is the litmus test for all of us. Do we experience Torah's areivus? Did we welcome the Torah into our lives? If we cannot respond in the affirmative, we have not really learned Torah.
Torah is the lifeblood of the Jewish People. Horav Mendel Kaplan, zl, was an individual who exemplified love of Torah. He would often reminisce about others, but he was simultaneously expressing his personal feelings. He could not forget the little boy in Baranovitch, sitting on the steps of the cheder reviewing his Chumash, long after classes had ended for the day. Horav Nochum Partzowitz, zl, Rosh Yeshivah of Mir, Yerushalayim, could not wait to go to cheder in the morning, so great was his desire to learn Torah. He would go barefoot, because it took him too long to put on his shoes.
When Rav Mendel would conclude a shiur, he would ask the students, "Nu, do you hear the music of Rashi?" He once remarked, "When someone learns a lot, he develops an appetite for Torah as one does for food. When Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, would return home after spending a day fundraising for his many Torah related endeavors, he would sit down to learn like a hungry man. Horav Shimon Shkop, zl, would expend such energy toiling in Torah that he barely had any strength left for anything else. Indeed, if someone tried to discuss any topic other than Torah, his eyes would droop and he would fall asleep from exhaustion." He would often quote from his rebbe, the saintly Horav Elchonon Wasserman, zl, "Learning is very hard but, without learning, living is very hard."
He would compare Torah study to the pursuit of commerce. He once needed a part for an old fixture in his house. He went to a hardware supply store and showed the owner the part. The owner immediately climbed a ladder, removed an old, dusty box and presented the part, commenting, "You know, Rabbi, I have not been asked for this part in over thirty years!" Rav Mendel asked him how many parts he had in his warehouse. "Over thirty thousand," he replied. Upon relating the incident, Rav Mendel quipped, "Do you think that he has such a brilliant mind that allows him to remember every part that he sells? No! It is his business. If it is your business, your livelihood, you remember. You do not have to possess a brilliant mind like Rav Chaim Ozer (Horav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zl) to know where everything is to be found in Shas. Torah just has to be your business, and you will know…Just like a businessman prays to Hashem for Divine assistance (Mevarech HaShanim), so, too, does a ben Torah pray to Hashem (Ahavah Rabbah) for assistance in Torah. He added that Hashem helps those who display a sincere desire for Torah advancement. When one learns even during times that are difficult, he receives Divine assistance. "If a person hurries back from breakfast to start learning, the angels wait at the door to bring him help from Heaven. If, however, he takes his time in returning to the bais ha'medrash, stopping along the way to shmooze, have a chat, before he begins to learn, the angels return to Heaven."
Space does not allow for the many anecdotes and lessons concerning Torah study upon which Rav Mendel would expound. There is one concerning the value of time that leaves an indelible impression. He said, "Every minute is precious. There is a building in Chicago, the Wrigley Building, which was built with the profits from selling millions of pieces of chewing gum at a penny each. From this we see that every small thing is precious." What a powerful lesson!
There was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain. (19:16)
It is an accepted axiom that Hashem does not perform miracles for no apparent reason. Every miracle has its purpose, its function and its specific time. The Giving of the Torah was a spectacular experience, beyond anyone's wildest dreams. It was an unparalleled display of miracles and wonders, unlike anything ever before experienced. Clearly, everything that took place was Divinely ordained and determined in accordance with Hashem's infinite understanding of what was necessary. All of this was needed to imbue the nascent Jewish nation with emunah, faith, in Hashem. We wonder why the trust that the Jewish People had in Moshe Rabbeinu was not sufficient to carry them. Furthermore, it is not as if these people had not been privy to miracles. The exodus from Egypt was replete with miracles. Those miracles were followed by the Splitting of the Red Sea, the Manna, the Pillars of Cloud and Fire. Surely, there was no dearth of supernatural events to inspire Klal Yisrael.
We must say that while those experiences sufficed for that generation, it was the future generations that would sustain the persecutions and miseries, the doros ha'shmad, the generations that would be subject to forced conversions, to spiritual adversity with every step and in every aspect of their lives. It was those generations that required that added mysterium tremendum, unprecedented event, experienced by 600,000 men over the age of twenty who would transmit it in all its glory to the next generation. Indeed, in his famous Iggeres Teiman, the Rambam writes that the whole purpose of the spectacular event that was Maamad Har Sinai was to provide us with a specific, unique experience that would strengthen our faith and resolve in Hashem, especially during those periods of travail and adversity.
Hashem offered the Torah to the other nations prior to our acceptance of it. He went to the descendants of Eisav and offered them the Torah. They asked, "What is in it?" to which Hashem replied, "Do not commit adultery." They immediately responded that adultery and immorality were too much a part of their lives. Their DNA included a proclivity towards immorality at its nadir. How could they accept a Torah that would restrict their lifestyle and national pasttime? Hashem's offer to Yishmael's descendants ended with a similar response once He told them that they would not be able to murder. Can you imagine Bnei Yishmael without license to kill? When Hashem offered the Torah to Klal Yisrael their response was immediate: Naaseh v'nishmah, "We will do and (then) We will listen." Total and unequivocal acceptance. The Chasam Sofer asks a compelling question. The Jews accepted the Torah. So what?! Was there any legitimate reason not to accept it? Was there anything about the Torah that for them would be difficult to uphold? Was there anything about the Torah that went against their character, personality, or disposition?
Indeed, why did Hashem divulge to the nations of the world those mitzvos with which they could not possibly live? It is almost as if they were set up, as if Hashem really had no plans to give them the Torah. The Torah, on the other hand, was made for the Jews. Why should they receive such credit for accepting it? They had no reason to reject it.
The Chasam Sofer explains that accepting the Torah was, indeed, a difficult undertaking for the Jewish People. By nature, Jews are a cogent, analytical people. We do not accept anything at face value. Questioning and challenging are part of our psyche. This disposition is the result of our prodigious intellect. Wisdom is part of our national character, and learning is for us a way of life. Thus, to make a statement such as, "We will do and we will listen," goes against our natural inclination. We transcended our intuition and accepted the Torah. It was not easy, but we believed and trusted in Hashem.
Faith and trust in the Almighty constituted our inheritance from our Patriarchs. When we demonstrated our incredible faith in Hashem, He rewarded us by opening up the Heavens and giving us a glimpse of the real world - the world in which we believed. The Heavenly support of miracles and wonders was catalyzed by our willingness to accept the Torah without demanding any substantiation of its veracity.
V'lo anachnu amo - And we are His people.
The word v'lo, "and we are His," is written with an aleph, rather than a vav, alluding to another thought. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, suggests that the meaning might be "He made us - v'lo - and not we." In other words, we must emphasize in our minds that, despite the physical "causes" which seem to play a primary role in our creation, we first and foremost have been created by Hashem, Who formed each and every one of us from the dust of the earth, much like a potter fashions clay into a form. Furthermore, from a collective perspective, we must possess the awareness that our existence as a nation - from inception through the present - is due solely to Hashem. He made the seed of the Patriarchs and families throughout history to increase, and He sustained and protected us until this very day, during which He continues to nurture our growth.
On the other hand, the simple meaning of this statement is that we are His because He made us, and every man is the property of his Creator. In turn, we, as His possessions, are obligated to devote all of our abilities towards serving Him and carrying out His will. We are His People, and, therefore, we are here for Him.
R' Meir ben Betzalel HaLevi z"l
niftar 24 Shevat 5764
on his yahrzeit.
Reb Meir loved people and was beloved by all.
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